How to Network at Conferences Like a Pro
Attending conferences that attract large numbers of people is a great way to make the connections you need to grow your business. Gatherings like the Texas Conference for Women are unique opportunities to meet and learn from others who are passionate about the same goals that fascinate you.
The simple act of getting out of the office can result in a huge boost to your creative thinking. And then, when you join masses of kindred spirits who have invested time and money to travel to the conference in order to learn something that can advance their business or career, you can’t help but find inspiration.
Conferences set you up to connect with potential joint venture partners as well as potential clients, collaborators and supporters. They give you the chance to see your business from the perspective of your peers, an experience that can bring remarkable new clarity. And a conference is an opportunity for you to stretch and grow, ensuring the continued health and strength of your business.
But how do you make the most of a conference, and afterwards return to work with viable, promising new relationships and not just a bunch of brochures that you will never read?
It’s far too easy for networking conversations to dissolve into nothing but small talk. A little of this may get you going, but then you must be ready to ask questions about what brings the other person to the conference and what they’re looking for. Be prepared to listen skillfully and then to share your own objectives. You may well find commonalities that extend the conversation; or the dialogue may spark connections to others who will benefit from the information.
Familiarize yourself with the following points and you’ll profit easily from your conference participation.
Prior to the event:
Define your goals with the greatest precision you can muster. Go to the conference not simply to “meet some people,” but to “connect with potential business partners who have audiences of young mothers.”
Plan to attend the speeches or breakout sessions that are most likely to attract your target audience. Develop questions you have for this target audience or for experts who may be speaking, and practice asking them.
Prep your elevator pitch. You always want to be ready with a confident and compelling answer to the question “What do you do?” Your elevator pitch should include the kind of work you do and the clients your company serves, as well as your key objectives for the event. Share what you hope to get out of the conference and you just might get the help you need.
At the event:
Attend as many programs as you feasibly can, and expose yourself to a wide range of conference attendees. Plan to meet many people.
Bring plenty of business cards that have your picture on them so it’s much easier for people to remember you after the event.
Ask questions to learn more about others. It’s much better to be interested, than to try to be interesting.
Talk to people; don’t sell! Let the conversation naturally turn to what you have to offer. There’s no need to force it. On the other hand, you must be ready to state clearly and powerfully, at the proper time, who you serve and how you help them; what is your product and why is it desirable?
After the conference:
Re-connect with people you met through LinkedIn or other social media, an email, or a phone call.
Suggest easy ways to continue the relationship. Maybe a social media connection is appropriate, or perhaps a longer phone conversation.
At all times, consider the WIIFM factor for the other person. Your ideas and proposals must obviously serve their interests, or you can’t expect much response.
With precision-planning and execution, you can maximize your participation at conferences to the extent that you’ll need to attend only a couple of them per year to forge the connections you require for success.
Liz Lynch is a leading business networking expert, speaker and author of Smart Networking: Attract a Following In Person & Online. She has appeared on CNN, ABC News, Fox Business News, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Forbes.com, CNBC.com and BusinessWeek.com, and holds an M.B.A. from Stanford University. For more networking tips and resources, visit www.NetworkingExcellence.com .
© Copyright 2012, Liz Lynch International LLC, All Rights Reserved.